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Parmigiana di Melanzane | Authentic Italian Eggplant Parm Recipe

Updated: 4 days ago

This dish goes by a few different names outside of Italy: eggplant parm, eggplant parmesan, eggplant parmigiana… In Italy, it’s known by only one: Parmigiana di Melanzane. It’s an incredibly delicious baked dish, with layers of fried eggplant slices, cheese, tomato sauce, and basil.

Parmigiana di Melanzane | Authentic Italian Eggplant Parm Recipe

Where is Parmigiana di Melanzane From?

A controversial subject in Italy!

One theory is that it comes from the city of Parma. Makes sense, considering the name, right? Not so fast, because the term "parmigiana" has been linked to various Sicilian words such as "damigiana" (a type of wicker casserole dish), "palmigiana" (a kind of louver shutter reminiscent of the eggplant layers in appearance), and "parmiciana" (which means “Persian”).

In any case, the earliest written recipes come from Naples, where the dish as we know it today certainly evolved. It’s a classic in Napoli, where they sometimes even replace the tomato sauce with their super rich ragù alla Napoletana!

How to Treat the Eggplants

While the eggplants must be fried, they do not need to be battered (contrary to popular conception). Don’t dip them in egg, don’t dip them in bread crumbs, don’t dip them in flour. The beauty of fried eggplants is the interplay between the oil and vegetable—it’s a magical process that shouldn’t be interrupted!

One popular technique is salting eggplants prior to cooking with them, a measure which helps suck out excess moisture and can even help to sweeten the vegetable. This is a trick that Italians rarely use as it’s completely unnecessary with high-quality, in-season produce. If you live in North America like us, you probably only have access to eggplants which are bred to be as huge and waterlogged as possible. Hence, this trick is quite useful at times.

If you feel this step is necessary, lightly salt the eggplant slices and let them drain in a colander for an hour or two prior to frying.

How to Make the Perfect Eggplant Parmigiana

One of the biggest frustrations with making a good parmigiana is trying to keep the dish from becoming too wet, a particularly common problem in North America where eggplants are quite watery (see above). To remedy this, try cooking down the tomato sauce so that it is thicker, and drain the chopped mozzarella overnight to shed as much liquid as possible. This will result in the best possible result and a delicious parmigiana!

Parmigiana di Melanzane | Authentic Italian Eggplant Parm Recipe

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Serving Size: 4-6

Cook Time: 2-3 hours

For this recipe, you will need:

  • 3 large eggplants

  • Frying oil (extra virgin olive oil is best, otherwise use a neutral oil of your choice)

  • Salt

  • 3 cups (710ml) simple tomato sauce

  • 12.5 oz. (350g) chopped mozzarella, or to taste

  • 1 cup (85g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or to taste

  • Fresh basil

  • Deep frying pan

  • Metal tongs for frying (optional, two forks work as well)

  • Slotted spoon

  • Paper towels

  • 2-quart baking dish, or similar

  • Aluminum foil

Thinly slice the eggplants into cross-section discs. Meanwhile, fill a deep frying pan with 1 inch of oil and bring up to medium/high heat. Like every Italian nonna, we never use a thermometer when frying. Instead, we just drop a small piece of eggplant in the oil when it’s hot. If it starts to bubble and fry right away, the oil is hot enough to fry! No need to overthink it.

Working in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan, drop the eggplant slices in and fry until they are lightly golden and wrinkled. Remove the eggplants with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to drain, and sprinkle them with salt.

Preheat an oven to 370 degrees F (185 C).

Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish. Cover this with a single layer of slightly overlapping eggplant slices. Over the eggplant, spread some chopped mozzarella, some torn pieces of basil, and a generous grating of Parmigiano cheese. Spread another thin layer of sauce and repeat all the above steps until you have layered all the eggplant. Finish by covering the top in an even spread of tomato sauce and plenty of grated cheese.

Cover the dish in aluminum foil and bake it for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and cook the parmigiana a further 30-45 minutes, or until the top is beginning to crisp.

Let the dish cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. Optionally, serve it cold instead of warm.

Buon appetito!

Want more eggplant recipes? Check out a whole video we made all about our favorites:

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